The U.S. imports more than it exports. This business fact means that millions of shipping containers arrive on our shores on an annual basis, yet only a fraction of those containers are reused to ship out product.

Innovative entrepreneurs have started to use shipping containers as a solution for housing and other types of real estate. Product designed with shipping containers can be built fast, is strong, and can also be more energy efficient, while reusing discarded materials.

Three Squared is one of the companies taking advantage of this resource. The company, led by founder and CEO Leslie Horn, has created a turnkey service from project scope to completed construction, including a proprietary flange for stacking containers. Three Squared has used its process in numerous housing and mixed-use projects, saving, on average, 25% in costs.

As Horn points out in this short video, the reuse of containers is environmentally friendly, and the containers have a strong thermal barrier so they can operate efficiently.

Three Squared participated with JPI and BGO Architects in the 2017 Multifamily Executive Concept Community by estimating construction schedules for two project types, and delivering some astonishing results.

For the Concept Community, Three Squared provided the construction schedule for the Studio, an affordable development built with shipping containers that was meant to appeal to a younger demographic, while keeping the construction costs to a minimum. The project balanced the exterior's industrial look of the exposed containers with a finished drywall warm interior.

Standard sized containers offered a fast-track modular project, reducing the conventional build time frame for the project from 16.5 months to just 8.5 months. As the components of the building are delivered to the site, the interiors of the “boxes” are already completed, including walls, flooring, cabinets, electrical, and plumbing fixtures.

By using the average cost per day on the construction site of $5,000 and average rents in Atlanta and Dallas from Axiometrics, the Concept Community partners calculated money fromboth time savings and rent revenue. Saving 240 days on the construction timeline and gaining 240 days of rent added up to an estimated $2.2 million for the Studio.

Three Squared also contributed to the Townhome project with the Concept Community, based on a more refined design with a container skeleton clad with a variety of exterior materials. The project benefited from a shortened construction schedule, and it had a more elegant aesthetic. BGO Architects used a variety of standard sized containers for different interior configurations for non-standard size unit designs, balcony locations, and even roof top decks. For this project, the traditional construction time, estimated by JPI at 16 months, was actually reduced to 6.5 months, ultimately saving 285 days on the construction timeline and gaining 285 days of rent. These savings added up to $1.8 million for the Townhome project.

Paul Galvin, chairman and CEO of SG Blocks, affirms that the projects he works on are delivered in half the time as compared with traditional construction. Plus, reusing the containers saves money—repurposing is far less expensive than building a structure from raw materials.  
Contained Challenges
While containers have their benefits, they don’t come without some challenges.

“The biggest hurdle we have faced to-date is a lack of education on the benefits of container-based construction on the part of developers,” Galvin says. “It is still a fairly novel idea and many may not be well aware of its benefits. For example, a common misconception is that a container-based building has to look like a container when finished, which is not the case.”

And, as Horn points out in her video, meeting regulations also can be a hurdle, which has resulted in an effort to try to change them.

Although there are challenges, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome to take advantage of the dozens of benefits. In addition to being environmentally friendly, Galvin points out that shipping containers are built to travel overseas in harsh weather conditions, so they are extremely durable. Plus, the containers can be built off-site, minimizing disruptions to local neighborhoods, as well as the carbon footprint of a construction project.

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